Family Ties

A tale of two sisters, and a father who wouldn't quit pursuing a killer

Markwardt told detectives that, on the day of the murder, he dropped off his wife at Houston Community College at 11:30 a.m. for her bookkeeping classes and picked her up at 2:30 p.m. In the early afternoon, when detectives believed Kathy had been murdered, Markwardt said, he was hanging out with an old friend named Hampton Robinson III, yet another one of the shadowy characters who seemed to flow through the sisters' lives. Robinson, a rogue member of a wealthy Houston family, was also a friend of Charles Harrelson (the father of actor Woody Harrelson), who was convicted in 1982 of murdering U.S. District Judge John H. Wood; Robinson ultimately testified against Harrelson.

Using Robinson as a reference didn't do much to persuade detectives, and Markwardt quickly moved to the top of the list of suspects.

Eleven days after Odom's murder, the Markwardts arrived at the sheriff's detective headquarters to answer questions. Greg calmly told his story. But after a few minutes he asked if he could go put more money in the parking meter. He got up and strolled out the door -- and never came back.

The Odoms' 1980 wedding: He still wasn't ready to 
settle down.
The Odoms' 1980 wedding: He still wasn't ready to settle down.
Parenthood had a maturing influence on Mike and 
Kathy Odom.
Parenthood had a maturing influence on Mike and Kathy Odom.

Three weeks after the murder, on March 25, Shelley Markwardt showed up at her parents' home. Shelley was angry, Frank Martin says, and she and Greg were fighting. Martin remembers Shelley admitting that she had seen Greg make a move on Kathy weeks before she was murdered. He says she told him they had visited her because Greg was "high on drugs and needed love."

The next day Shelley borrowed Martin's Buick to get her belongings from the Brae Acres house. When she still hadn't returned two days later, Martin reported the car stolen.

It was recovered on April 1, outside the clinic where Greg and Shelley went for methadone, and officers thought they may have caught a big break. Inside the car they found a bag of dirty men's clothes that looked like Markwardt's. There appeared to be blood on the clothes, but the lab tests were inconclusive.

It was one more dead end in an investigation that would lead to many dead ends. There were no eyewitnesses; Tasha remembered nothing. There was no physical evidence. No murder weapon. Markwardt, who now communicated with police only through an attorney, refused to take a polygraph.

There was little more to go on than the suspicions of Frank Martin, who was wrestling with the death of his daughter. A blunt man who collects Elvis statues and old oversize liquor bottles, Martin was sure that the Harris County detectives were botching the case. He felt they did a shoddy job collecting evidence, especially after Mike Odom cleaned up the house and moved out all the furniture within days of the murder. In 1988, Markwardt's alibi, the mysterious Hampton Robinson, died after a lengthy illness, apparently without investigators ever getting an official statement from him.

The more detectives appeared to lose interest, the more Martin fumed. He would spend long hours at his daughter's grave. Some days he would park outside the house in Dove Meadow, not sure what he was hoping to see.

"Frank was so bitter and focused on this, it was all he could ever talk about," Bonnie Rigdon says. "It was just too much for him."

John Loftin and Martin started following Greg Markwardt, hoping he might provide some clues. Eventually Martin hired Markwardt at his sign company, under the theory that it was smart to "keep the enemy close."

"He was always hoping Greg would slip up and hang himself," Loftin says.

Martin talked about killing Markwardt and making it look like an industrial accident, if he ever had proof that he had murdered Kathy, Loftin says. "I told Greg, 'Frank's going to spin you into the high line, brother.' He wouldn't say nothing. He just went white."

As the years passed, Martin kept up the pressure on detectives, writing letters and calling the sheriff, the district attorney, even local politicians. In 1993, a photo of Martin standing next to Kathy's grave ran on page one of the Houston Chronicle along with a story headlined "Bad Reputation for Investigations." In it, Martin called sheriff's investigators inept. Then-sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen, in turn, called Martin "a nut case.''

Harry Fikaris was soon assigned to the case. The first move was to use new DNA testing procedures on the semen samples from Kathy Odom's body. In police terms, the results "failed to eliminate" Markwardt because they matched 2.1 percent of all white males, including him. However, that was enough reasonable doubt to make the D.A.'s office reluctant to prosecute.

Desperate for any leads, detectives took Tasha Odom to a forensic hypnotist, trying anything to jog her memory. It didn't work.

As the case foundered, Fikaris became Martin's whipping boy. The father called the detective constantly, often berating the "sorry son-of-a-bitches" for their lack of progress and competency.

"I can't blame him for anything he did," Fikaris says. "There was nothing we could do at that point. But at least he had someone to bitch to."

When his daughter was buried, the slash across her throat covered by a scarf, Frank Martin purchased a set of spaces around the grave to create a family plot. On Kathy's grave he placed a headstone listing her children and family members -- everyone except Shelley.

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